Sometimes a show comes along, more precisely a production, that reminds one of the sheer power of the art form that is musical theatre. Not a big, grandiose, blockbuster musical, but an intimate, raw and palpable production that you feel every emotion from every character. That is what you get in Porchlight Music Theatre's beguiling Chicago premiere of "A Catered Affair", the teleplay turned film turned musical with music and lyrics by John Bucchino and book by Harvey Fierstein.
Almost a chamber piece, "A Catered Affair" tells the story of a 1950's lower middle class Bronx family dealing with the death of their only son juxtaposed over the imminent joy of the their daughter getting married. The wedding becomes the focal point for all the emotions the family has been dealing with to be unleashed and with the stellar cast put together by director Nick Bowling, the deconstruction of the characters is all right in front of us to witness and join in on their journey.
Having seen the Broadway incarnation of "A Catered Affair" I can assuredly tell you that there is one trump card Porchlight has that the Great White Way did not. That is Rebecca Finnegan. As the mother of the bride, Aggie, Ms. Finnegan gives a performance that will leave you shaken. Every line is measured, but it is in her silence that the pain of her life is loudest and clearest. Ms. Finnegan's voice is rich, textured and controlled. Her show-stopping "Our Only Daughter" will give you goose bumps. She makes each cast member she is on stage with better and that is the mark of a gifted actress and moreover, one who embodies a role. "My life is not something I think about", says Aggie, and therein lays the conflict of this show.
"A Catered Affair" gives us quite the family dynamic. From the gay uncle (Jerry O'Boyle), to the almost perfect daughter (Kelly Davis Wilson) and her adoring fiancé (Jim DeSelm), to the husband (Craig Spidle) and wife who have let their dreams and goals escape them over the decades. Never do you ever question that these relationships aren't real nor are they ever forced.
Musically, the show is also gorgeous. Doug Peck is at the top of his game here and the marriage between the musicians and the actors add to the emotional tension of the piece. Brian Sidney Bembridge's beige and white set design give authenticity to the time period as does Nic Jones softly hued lighting design.
"A Catered Affair" is certainly not a perfect show. The storyline of the gay uncle at times undermines and almost derails the main story line. But, that said, "A Catered Affair" is what good theatre is all about. It is a show you will be taking about for days to come and one that can, at the very least, make you re-examine the priorities in your own life.
"A Catered Affair" runs through April 1, 2012 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. For tickets and more information
please visit Stage773.